At the October 2014 General Conference of the LDS Church, Elder Neil L. Andersen–of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles–gave a deeply disturbing talk. One in which he completely failed to understand the issues facing LDS Church members.
First, the conference talk is poorly titled: “Joseph Smith.” It has little to do with the Prophet, and much more to do with where we obtain and how we process our information about Joseph Smith and the Church.
“Studying the Church . . . through the eyes of its defectors,” Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, is “like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus. Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed.”
But the same could be said about the sanitized versions of Church history which were common and, to a certain extent still are, in Church manuals and publications. Sanitizing Church historians “always tell us more about themselves” than about actual history. Their attitude toward readers was “You can’t handle the truth.”
Second, Elder Andersen continues the trend of blaming the Internet for the “false” information circulating about the Prophet and the Church:
We might remind the sincere inquirer that Internet information does not have a “truth” filter. Come information, no matter how convincing, is simply not true.
But the same could be said about past Church manuals and publication. They did not come with a “truth” filter. Many of the “official” sanitized versions of biographies, doctrines, and events were certainly less than candid, and in some cases were just plain wrong. It is time that Mormonism acknowledge that history needs to be accurate, and not just faith promoting, and quit blaming the Internet. Information from the Internet has frequently been more accurate than “official” Church publications. The Internet, and other resources, have forced the LDS Church to own its past. This may be a painful process, but it is one that needed to happen.
Third, Elder Andersen shows a poor understanding of the Mark Hofmann case. Hofmann was a forger who tried to blackmail the Church into purchasing “historical” documents, including a letter. Because the LDS Church was (and still is) uncomfortable with parts of its past, his scheme almost worked. The implication might be made LDS Church officials wanted to suppress embarrassing information. Why else would they be willing to pay such high prices for “historical” documents?
Months later experts discovered (and the forger confessed) that the letter was a complete deception. You might understandably question what you hear on the news, but you need never doubt the testimony of God’s prophets.
I don’t think that is the most important lesson to be learned from the Hofmann case.
Fourth, Elder Andersen misunderstands the faith crises that members are going through because of the lack of candor about issues of Church history and doctrine. While my doubts are not directly related to these issues, the history and doctrine concerns should not be downplayed. Elder Andersen puts undo pressure on the membership when he states: “You won’t be of much help to others if your own faith is not securely in place.” The Church is going through a rough period and the Church leadership should have more compassion and understanding toward those who doubt. President Uchtdorf understand this; other members of the LDS leadership need to understand this also.
The enemy isn’t the historians that have forced us to revisit our history, it is not the Internet, it is not Mark Hofmann, it is us the membership for not expecting more of our leaders.